Posted August 13, 2010 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (July-August 2010)

by Paulette Curran.

Most days, we, like you, live very ordinary lives. Sometimes we’re tempted to think we are wasting them washing dishes, sweeping floors, chopping wood, cleaning, and eternally keeping things repaired and in order.

Most of the time, it is only in the darkness of faith that we believe that, beneath the veil of ordinariness, is a glory that we will only see completely in heaven. But every once in a while, individually or communally, God lifts a corner of the veil and gives us a glimpse of it.

In Madonna House, there are three sorts of events when the veil is lifted for the whole community. Those events, as Fr. David May, once told us in a homily, are promises, funerals, and anniversaries.

It isn’t often that all three of these events happen within a month, but recently they did. In fact, two of them occurred within a few days. On Wednesday, May 12th, Ronnie MacDonell died and on Sunday, May 16th , Fr. Pat McNulty celebrated his 50th anniversary of priesthood.

And that’s not all that happened within those few days.

On Thursday, May 13th, a number of us went to Ottawa to take part in the annual March for Life—something Ronnie would not have wanted us to miss.

On Friday, we had the reception of Ronnie’s body and wake, and on Saturday his funeral.

Sunday we celebrated what we call Foundation Day, the anniversary of the day Catherine and Eddie arrived in Combermere, as well as Fr. Pat’s anniversary, with a picnic. We also brought Joe Walker home from the nursing home to celebrate his 87th birthday.

In the evening we had "memories night," when we told stories about Ronnie. Plus it was the Feast of the Ascension.


Let me begin with Ronnie’s death and funeral. We pray for a happy death, and you couldn’t ask for a better one than Ronnie’s.

Though he certainly endured the pain and suffering characteristic of the final stages of cancer, the duration of these stages was relatively short. And he peacefully told us, communally, and some of us individually, that he was ready to die.

Right up until the day before his death, though he was in physical pain and very weak, his mind was clear, and he continued to attend community events.

On Tuesday, May 11th, after having lunch (at that point, he was eating almost nothing) and spiritual reading with the St. Mary’s community, he went for a rest as usual. But he didn’t wake up, and his breathing was labored.

That evening, we were able to say our good-byes. He was semi-conscious and very peaceful. He died the next morning at 6:20 a.m.

Charlie Cavanaugh in his article tells about an unusual "upside down rainbow" that appeared in the sky immediately afterwards.

Ronnie’s funeral, too, was beautiful. At the wake service, Fr. Louis Labrecque said, "Ronnie was born for heaven, and he had a unique vocation to prepare him for it." This word sat in me for a while, and suddenly I realized that this is also true of me and of every person on this earth.

Ronnie had requested two things, and each we were able to do.

He was buried in his kilt, the kilt made of the plaid of the MacDonell clan and, as is the custom in Cape Breton funerals, the procession to the grave site was accompanied by the music of bagpipes. (The brother of one of the applicants, who lives not far away, played the pipes.)

These things, plus the presence of several members of his family, made Ronnie’s Scottish-Canadian roots a tangible part of the funeral.

Several people remarked on the feel of the funeral: that of quiet joy, the kind of joy that was characteristic of Ronnie.

The day after the funeral, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of priesthood of Fr. Pat McNulty. He had requested that the celebration be simple, and it was in the context of our annual picnic with the local directors. (Yes, the local directors meetings were also going on at that time!)

Fr. Pat was the main celebrant at the Sunday liturgy and at the end of it, Fr. David May, the director general of priests, said, among other things, "By the grace of God, you have revealed to us and lived that the mercy of God reaches to the heights and depths and that no one is beyond its reach…."

What else to say about Fr. Pat? If you are a regular reader of Restoration, you already have a sense of who he is and what his life has been.

His delightful column, in which he clothes profound truths with gutsy humor, comes out of his experiences, his unique way of seeing the world, and what the Holy Spirit tells him through these things. Is there anyone else in the whole world who writes quite like Fr. Pat?

Like Ronnie, he has persevered, but through a very different kind of forming and purifying. Fr. Pat, too, has a unique vocation to prepare him for heaven.

At the picnic, wearing a T-shirt from the old movie/play, Hello, Dolly, a shirt which Diane Kunz gave him (Catherine Doherty used to call him "Fr. Dolly"), he enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and ice cream with us, and some of the local directors and others sang him a song.

Yes, the local directors. Every year in May, the directors of all our houses come to Combermere, the heart of Madonna House, to meet, to share with one another, to discuss what needs to be discussed, to listen to the Spirit together, and to receive support and to drink of the waters of Madonna House life and spirituality.

The third "lifting of the veil" occurred on June 8th, Promises Day, the day the members of Madonna House make their commitment to God through this Madonna House vocation. It, too, was a celebration of perseverance and commitment.

Having lived this vocation for varying lengths of time, staff promised to continue to do so for one year, two years, or "forever."

Promises cannot but be a moving ceremony.

Families come for the event, and their presence is very much a part of the day. Occasionally we get a particularly big one, and this year it was a farm family from the Saskatchewan prairies—the Novecoskys.

June 8th is also the Feast of Our Lady of Combermere, and this year it marked the 50th anniversary of the blessing of the statue. Our main celebration will be on July 11th, but it was not ignored on June 8th, the real anniversary.

Beautiful photos of her graced our dining room wall, and archives had put together an album about that time when she first arrived. And surely it was she who gave us the perfect weather of that day.

And what else has been going on?

Well, for one thing, it was an unusually warm spring. Yes, that was lovely, but it also put a pressure on the farmers and gardeners. The season was two weeks early.

Our directors general made a visitation to MH Russia. (Barring the unforeseen, Fr. David May will tell you about it in our next couple of issues.)

Bishop Michael Mulhall of our Pembroke diocese visited and officially accepted the candidacy for priesthood of staff worker Michael Weitl so that he can proceed to the next step.

It goes without saying that the crises in various parts of the world are very much in our hearts and prayers, but we try to remember that God is more powerful than any darkness.

During this summer season, despite whatever darkness there is in the world and in your individual lives, may each of you experience times of relaxation, beauty, love, joy, and "the peace that surpasses all understanding."


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Milestones (July-August 2010)

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Why Consecrated Life?



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